And, sure, it seems like 8 dogs would be enough already, to fill our lives with love (to paraphrase a TV show theme tune). But it's also a matter of filling our kennels with workers. I rely on Jazz and Dulcie, my hardcore spaniel team, but both girls are middle aged. In a couple of year's time, they won't be able to work 50 days a season. Pip the lab will probably have to slow down around the same time because of her weak hips. Podge the cocker spaniel and Spud will be the main team by then. Replacements always need to be following on behind.
It takes anywhere from 18 months to 3 years to train a dog, depending on its individual levels of maturity and ability. Keepers' dogs have to be the Jack of all Trades dogs, doing every job on the shoot: they hunt up any wounded birds after shoot season, 'dog' birds (i.e. chase them) back home when the birds are first released and begin to wander, then put birds over guns or find and retrieve shot birds for 5 straight months of winter. On days we're not shooting, we often help local shoots that are short handed, so 50 days is a minimum.
Of course, the retirees have a home for life, even after wear and tear means they can't work at all. We owe them that. Nellie is our only completely retired dog, but she likes riding in the truck and pottering around the garden. Pretty much what I will probably like when I'm an old lady. I even give her a cup of tea sometimes, if I'm making one for myself and we're taking a break from the weeding and whatnot.
This new pup probably won't be our only one this year. We will look out for a springer spaniel - the monkey wrench of shooting dogs, capable of every job - by summer. After the chocolate lab goes to her new home. The magic number hovers around 8 dogs.
Of course another puppy following on behind this one means I'm not going to get a night's unbroken sleep until next winter.
I picked out our so-far-still-nameless lab pup from the litter yesterday. I had 3 bitches to pick from and this one was by far the ugliest, made worse by a huge bruise on the bridge of its nose (from putting its face in another dog's food bowl). I wanted to pick one of the others but nameless pup was quieter, sat and looked at me, and kept picking up lengths of straw and carrying them over to me. She was definitely a little work bee...uh, lab. Looks don't count on a shoot day.
I took her straight to the vets for a check over and a jab of anti-inflammatory / antibiotics for her nose. Like most puppies, she was car sick and, on the way to the vets, vomited. Right onto the handbrake. Like a labrador, she proceeded to eat what didn't fall through the gap around the handbrake. So goes it sharing your life with an eight-week old puppy.
She's being crate trained in the house, and her crate is tucked the other side of our kitchen table cum office desk. This is usually Dakota's sleeping spot and she's slightly put out. None of the house dogs are thrilled by the new arrival. They're all upstairs in bed with Mike who was on 4am puppy duties. I raided Mike's old hospital supplies and found absorbent pads which make great puppy bedding.
I will try and think of a name, but I could use suggestions. Anything I can easily shout across a field with minimal embarassment will be considered. I keep calling her Bug, but I should have learned my lesson with the flatcoat. Nicknames end up being recognised by smart dogs, by which time it's too late to fix it. Hence Spud with forever be Spud. Help me save Bug from the same fate!